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An Olympic Champion and Gentleman of Rowing. William Arthur Stowe – 1940-2016

by Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org | Feb 10, 2016
The selection process for the crew that would row in the Olympic Trials for the Vesper Boat Club in 1964 had been going on for a while before the day that Bill Stowe walked into the storied boathouse in Philadelphia.
stowe1The selection process for the crew that would row in the Olympic Trials for the Vesper Boat Club in 1964 had been going on for a while before the day that Bill Stowe walked into the storied boathouse in Philadelphia.

Boyce Budd, who was also trying out for a spot in the boat, remembers the day clearly, and to fully picture how this might have gone, Budd’s ability to tell a story is needed.

“I have never experienced anything like this in rowing,” said Budd. “There was a certain bloodthirstiness at Vesper. Everything was about competing. It was bloodthirsty and on top of it, you had the two Amlong brothers (Joe and Tom) and they added an element of bloodthirstiness unlike anything I have ever experienced in rowing. The smack talk that went on, I can’t tell you how many days nearly ended in fistfights.”

A lot more colorful language filled out the rest of Budd’s story and it set the tone for his interpretation of Stowe’s entrance.

The Vesper crew was not the welcoming sort, Budd said, but Stowe had been brought to Philadelphia to row in this crew by John B. Kelly, Jr. “Kel” as he was known to the Vesper members was helping to pull the pieces of the crew together and had arranged for Stowe, a Navy Lieutenant, to be transferred to Philadelphia. Stowe was going to have his tryout in the eight, and in the stroke seat.

Stowe got that chance and the rest is history. He fit in immediately, stroked the crew to victory at trials and then to the gold medal in Toyko, Japan in the 1964 Olympic Games.

Stowe’s story, and those of his accomplishments in rowing that followed, will live on, but Stowe suffered a fall in his home in Lake Palcid, N.Y. on Monday and passed away. He was 75.

64crewBorn William Arthur Stowe in Oak Park, Ill., and raised in Bronxville, N.Y., Stowe attended the Kent School in Kent, Conn. where he took up rowing.

He continued as a collegiate oarsman at Cornell University, where he stroked and was captain of the undefeated 1959 freshman crew. Years after he rowed at Cornell, those who have come after him still share Stowe’s legend.

“Bill Stowe is a hero in Cornell rowing history,” said Cornell Director of Rowing and men’s head coach, Todd Kennett. “Upon entering Cornell, his presence was immediately known. He stroked the heavyweight freshman boat coached by Carl Ullrich in 1959 to an undefeated season and a IRA title.

“Despite sitting out his sophomore year, Coach Sanford placed him in the stroke seat upon his return. He would lead his junior varsity and senior years, helping Cornell to a second and first place finish at those respective IRAs.

sportIllis“It was not just his great ability of leading Cornell crews to wins from the stroke seat,” Kennett said. “But it was his character and charisma that distinguished him. Stories about Bill Stowe still are told in the Collyer Boathouse, and as the Director and an alum of Cornell, I hope they continue to be. He helped make the Cornell experience even zestier and more exciting than it already was, and added flare to our history that cannot be erased.”    
 
Stowe capped his career at Cornell with an IRA Championship in 1962. While serving in the United States Navy, he was deployed to Vietnam, where he rowed at the Club Nautique in Saigon. And then he  joined the Vesper crew.

Stowe authored a memoir of the 1964 campaign titled, “All Together: The Formidable Journey to the Gold with the 1964 Olympic Crew,” and published it in 2005.
 
It is the story of the journey that began on that morning when Stowe first walked into Vesper and rowed his way onto the team Kelly had him pegged for. According to Budd, Stowe was not prepared for the likes of the Vesper crew when he arrived. And they were not prepared for him.

But that changed the first time Stowe stroked the crew in a timed piece on the Schuylkill River.

“When we finally got the eight together, it sort of instantly meshed," Budd said. "I’ve never, ever experienced anything like it in rowing before. We only had five weeks together before the Olympic Trials.

“The first time we did 2,000 meters together, it was one of those terrific spring days in Philadelphia, where the water is still pretty cold and the sky is clear blue, and the water is moving a little too fast so you know you’re going to get an unreliable time.

“Two things happened,” Budd said. “Bill stroked this group that he had never rowed with before as naturally as he had done it for a year and a half. And it was fast. We went across the line and Emory Clark was behind me and I turned around and looked at him and Clark said, ‘That was the roughest (blanking) row I’ve ever been through.

“And I said, ‘Yes, and it was also the (blanking) fastest row that you’ve ever had.'”

billFollowing the Olympics, Stowe continued his rowing career as a coach and in 1967, he was appointed head coach at Columbia University. He went on to introduce rowing at the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1971, where he also briefly served as the Sports Information Director. Stowe led the Cadets to a victory over Yale University and saw his program win a Dad Vail Championship in 1972.

Stowe also coached the Litchfield Rowing Association to numerous youth national championships from 1968 through 1971 and worked as the ABC television commentator for the 1968 and 1971 Olympic Games.

During his time coaching, Stowe met and married his wife, Barbara. And like his Olympic experience, that is also a story worth telling.

“Bill and I first met in the Adirondacks when I was 11 and he was 12,” Barbara recalled on Tuesday. “But we went on to have separate lives. A friend of mine married his brother and I was able to keep tabs on him. And then we met again, and I was able to get a hold of him for myself.

“We had a great run together,” she said. “It was a very rewarding time to be with him. I just loved meeting the guys who rowed for him at Coast Guard. He was like a father to them, he took them on like they were his sons.”

In addition to his coaching career, Stowe worked to further the sport as a leader and organizer. He was on the Board of the National Association of Amateur Oarsman, the predecessor of USRowing.

While serving on the board of the NAAO, Stowe was chairman of the publicity committee and helped organize a rowing safety committee to establish standard procedures demonstrated in a video for rowing organizations to follow.

In 2011, Stowe was presented the Jack Kelly Award, which recognizes superior achievements in rowing, service to amateur athletics, and success in their chosen profession, thereby serving as an inspiration to American rowers.

“Bill Stowe is a man I admire,” said USRowing Chief Executive Officer, Glenn Merry. “He was a leader in rowing, a mythical figure from the stroke seat of the Great Eight, someone who truly embodied the best our sport is. His involvement at every facet, from Dad Vail to the NRF to USRowing, itself, reflected how deeply he lived in the sport. We have lost an important figure in rowing and he will be missed.”

Outside of rowing, Stowe was an avid author and outdoor adventurer. He summited Mount Rainier, Kilimanjaro and the Adirondack 46 High Peaks. He also enjoyed playing tennis, hiking, cross-country skiing and reading.

Stowe is survived by his wife; his son, William P. Stowe and six grandchildren. He was the brother of Denby and Michael Stowe. Visitation will be at the M. B. Clark Funeral Home in Lake Placid, Friday, Feb. 19 from 4-6 p.m. A memorial is scheduled to take place in St. Luke’s Church, in Saranac Lake, N.Y., on Saturday, Feb. 20.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Stowe’s name to St. Luke’s Church.
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